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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Challenge to New Student Information Rules Nixed

WASHINGTON (CN) - Privacy defenders lack standing to challenge the expansion of access to information regarding public school students, a federal judge ruled.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, sued the U.S. Department of Education under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, claiming the government exceeded its statutory capabilities by changing the definitions of key terms within the law.

According to U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson's ruling, federal law requires publicly funded schools to keep student records under lock unless the student's parents provide consent, but there are several exceptions.

EPIC took issue with a final rule issued by the department that expanded the language of two of those exceptions - the directory information exception and the program evaluation exception.

The rule adds student ID numbers to the available directory information, which already includes information like height, weight, telephone numbers and membership to officially recognized activities.

According to the ruling, the rule also allows the government to delegate the authority to access student information to "non-governmental actors" acting as authorized representatives.

EPIC claimed the new access rule would "expose troves of sensitive, non-academic data," in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Though four individuals - all of whom sit on the group's advisory board - joined EPIC EPIC as plaintiffs, Judge Jackson dismissed the suit Wednesday for a lack of standing.

"Plaintiffs argue that the standing requirement is satisfied in this case because the four individual plaintiffs each have standing and because EPIC has both organizational standing on its own behalf and associational standing on behalf of its members," the 37-page ruling states. "The Court disagrees and finds that none of the individual plaintiffs nor EPIC have standing to bring the claims asserted in the complaint. The individual plaintiffs have alleged nothing more than a hypothetical possibility of some vague harm, and that harm does not even flow from the challenged regulations."

Jackson noted that EPIC's main argument for injury was that it was forced to do what it normally does - advocate for its "raison d'etre."

The judge dismissed the complaint and denied EPIC's motion for summary judgment.

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